Parent volunteer coordinator Tonya Turman poses for a portrait inside the school's care closet at Orchard Knob Middle School on Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018, in Chattanooga, Tenn. The care closet, which features clothing, hygiene supplies and other items for students, is being expanded to all of the county's Opportunity Zone schools.

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Care closet


For more information about the district’s care closets or to get information about how your church or organization can get involved, contact Melissa Graham at or (901) 218-0605.

Tonya Turman drags a cardboard box of carefully folded polo shirts down the hallway at Orchard Knob Middle School. On the way, a young student comes up to her in the hallway. He whispers something to her and she puts her arm around his shoulders and guides him to the school's Care Closet.

The closet, a small room squeezed between the parent resource center and the school's VW eLab, is stocked with clothes, toiletries and hygiene items, backpacks, school supplies and even laundry detergent.

Turman is the school's parent volunteer coordinator, but in between scheduling mobile pantry drop-offs and parent nights, she often hands out fresh shirts, deodorant or toothbrushes. She also does students' laundry in the school's two washer and dryer sets.


Care Closet project


The closet is part of the wraparound services that leaders of Hamilton County School's Opportunity Zone are installing in Hamilton County's 12 Opportunity Zone schools, which are among the district's neediest.

Orchard Knob Middle's closet is an initiative that started well before the zone hired two community school coordinators, but it is one they are hoping to expand with the help of community organizations and local clergy and churches.

"We want to make sure we can take care of any academic barriers students have when they get to us," said Tiffany Earvin, the school's principal. "From head to toe we tell them all the time, if you need something, ask us."

Nearly 82 percent of Orchard Knob Middle School's students are considered economically disadvantaged by the state. More than 97 percent are students of color. The middle school students come from some of Chattanooga's poorest, crime-ridden neighborhoods in the city's urban core.

But the school has been working to show academic growth under the leadership of Earvin, who has been principal for three years. In order to address academic needs, Earvin says the students and their families' basic needs must first be met.

Turman said she, Earvin and school administrators have worked to create a community atmosphere at the school where students know their needs can be met.

"We try to eliminate the shame," she said.

Turman also works with parents to help them connect with resources and services available for those who might be struggling. The greatest need, she said, is employment.

"We have had several parents come in looking for jobs. We have a community lab where they can fill out job applications, create resumes," Turman said. "It is the greatest request."

Schools are a natural place to gather such resources, said John Cunningham, Graham's counterpart and the other community school coordinator for the zone.

"Not every family is a member of a church or goes to the YMCA, but every parent comes in contact with the schools," Cunningham said.

Graham and her team are working with Mayor Andy Berke's multi-faith clergy group to recruit churches or groups of churches to adopt a school and help replenish supplies throughout the year.

Orchard Knob Middle currently has the most robust Care Closet of the zone's 12 schools — it is "the gold standard," said Jill Levine, chief of the Opportunity Zone. Some schools have smaller scale services, but Graham hopes to build those out, especially at Brainerd High and The Howard School.

"It all positively affects learning," said Melissa Graham, one of two community school coordinators for the Opportunity Zone. "The community needs to take responsibility of student learning, it's not just the job of the educators, we are all on one team."

Earvin likes to say, "We are one family, with one destiny. It takes a village to raise a child."

For more information about the district's Care Closets or to get information about how your church or organization can get involved, contact Melissa Graham at or (901) 218-0605.

Contact staff writer Meghan Mangrum at or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.